Dante's Inferno: Dante's Journey Toward Enlightenment
While reading Dante’s Inferno I couldn’t help but draw parallels between the journey of the protagonist and the belief system of the Buddhist religion. Dante believed we must understand sin before we can reject it, and Buddha believed that before we can reject sin, we must suffer also. Examining these two tenets side by side makes the similarities undeniably apparent; they both seem to be purporting the message that there cannot be pain without pleasure, truth without dishonesty or enlightenment with suffering.
Dante’s version of hell is based on that of Medieval Catholicism, which professes to be quite divergent from the Buddhist faith. Yet the similarities are actually quite prevalent when reviewed from an impartial perspective. The first resemblance I noticed between the two faiths was in regards to the Roman epic poet Virgil, who acts as Dante’s mentor and protector while accompanying him on his extraordinary journey through Hell. This immediately made me think of the spirit guides that Buddhists believe channel them towards salvation.
Dante views Virgil as many Christians view God; as a father figure, from whom guidance, information, and forgiveness is actively sought. Dante refers to Virgil as "Master", "Guide", "Teacher", "Poet" in the beginning; yet he eventually begins to refer to Virgil as "Lord", implying that he sees Virgil not as a traditional father figure, but as a spiritually divine one. This is evidenced even further in Canto XXX, line 130 – end, in which Dante needs Virgil’s forgiveness, which suggests that his clemency bears some divine power of atonement.
This Christian tendency to have a spirit guide take on the characteristics of a ruling deity is actually analogous to aspects of the Buddhist religion in many ways. Both Buddhists and Christians believe that a spirit guide is a more highly evolved being who once started out on the lowest, physical plane but has reached a level at which he can be considered a 'God'. Both view the spirit guide as a counselor and a guardian that is far wiser than any mortal being. Both attach the figure of the spirit guide to divine characteristics, and both use the figure pervasively throughout their narratives. However it is important to note that there are also some discrepancies between Dante’s Christian spirit guides and those revered in Buddhism. Buddhists believe that every human being is a spiritual being as well as a physical being, and that by exploring the spiritual sphere of ourselves we...